There’s a saying that goes: "Dress for the job you want, not the one you have." Now, that might not always be practical, given your profession, but there is something powerful in the idea that the clothes you choose to wear, and how you wear them, can have an effect in the workplace. Can bossing your workwear turn you into a literal boss?
Power dressing – the art of dressing in a style that suggests authority and power – gained serious popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s. Typically seen in business and political environments, images of women in structured skirt suits accessorised with pearls or a silk scarf might come to mind. Times, as well as fashion, have changed, thankfully, and power dressing has evolved as a result. The style certainly has its fans, and for those who embrace it, it’s seen as a powerful way to shape presence and assertiveness in the workplace – after all, whether we like it or not, the way we dress has a significant impact on how others view us.
Together with TRESemmé, we're trying out a few popular techniques for powering your presence at work. We kickstarted with power poses, then moved onto positive affirmations – and power dressing is up next. So is it something to leave firmly behind in the '80s or is there room for it in our day-to-day work life?
Well, if power dressing has you worried about running out to buy oversized shoulder pads and terrifyingly sculptured shift dresses, then think again. Power dressing doesn’t need to be intimidating, especially in today’s age, says celebrity stylist Holly White: "A blazer is the perfect piece to immediately exert power dressing without going overkill. Add a T-shirt, jeans and flats for a smart casual vibe or a tailored trouser and blouse for a more formal occasion."
Holly is a keen advocate of using smart tailoring to boost presence and says adding a blazer to any outfit immediately makes her feel more self-assured. "You should feel confident every day, not just for those 'big moments' such as an interview or presentation."
With self-doubt being such a frequent occurrence – nine in 10 women in the UK say they have experienced Imposter Syndrome in the workplace – trying a technique such as power dressing is just one way to up your confidence. Although simply throwing on a fabulous blazer – or a crisp jumpsuit, or your favourite dress – won’t solve underlying issues of low self-esteem, it can be something useful to reach for to give yourself a quick and easy injection of self-confidence and presence. Essentially, when we feel good in what we’re wearing, we are likely to project it. So the next time you need a little inspiration, why not reach for that blazer?
Read on to find out how modern-day power dressing and being conscious of what they wear helped power the presence of three R29 staffers. Want to learn more about how style, including hair, can impact your presence at work? Visit the free online version of the TRESemmé Presence MasterClass™.
Ellen, R29 Strategy & Client Services Manager
"I started the week with a pretty fixed idea of what 'power dressing' meant. First, sharp tailoring. A suit surely screams 'I’ve got my shit together'. Second, heels. Comfortable ones, obviously. Finally, a bold lip. (It’s fine that my concept of power is based on Disney villains, right?) I decided to anchor the week’s outfits around these staples.
Day one, I had all this (and more) going on, and was blown away by the reactions. Swivel chairs spun round faster than Theresa May’s stance on Brexit as shocked colleagues stopped what they were doing to shout feminist catcalls. But instead of feeling empowered, I felt a strange, Imposter Syndrome-esque discomfort. I felt like I was playing dress up, rather than elevating myself.
As the days went on, I realised that, as with most things, power dressing is about balance. Suit and trainers? Hundy. Jeans and heels? Nailing it. It’s also about feeling yourself. There’s a well-established link between height and power, and I felt my presence rise with the extra inches heels gave me. But I equally got that kick of confidence in my #freshest #creps. I also discovered that small touches can be transformational. Usually reluctant to iron clothes or blow-dry my hair, these simple measures finessed every look. Turns out the devil – Prada-wearing or not – really is in the detail."
Sadhbh, R29 Social Media Editor
"I've always loved a suit and a strong shoulder, but as much as I love the result I oftentimes don't want to make the effort. However, having an excuse (read: I'd be told off if I didn't do it) made it a lot more fun. This suit from the last day was definitely my favourite – the colour! The shoulders! The almost unfathomably long leg! I always assumed it wasn't practical because of said leg length and thought the trousers were a touch too tight for me, but they were actually fine!
My main challenges were all transport related, as I cycle to work: finding the right bag, and having trousers that wouldn't get caught in my spokes was tricky. Maybe power dressing and being good to the environment don't necessarily go hand in hand? But I made it work. And it definitely gave me a more powerful sense of presence. Even though I wasn't on top form that week it helped me feel more in control of myself."
Effy, R29 EGD International Sales
"As a person who tends to only think about what I'm wearing for the day five minutes before my bus is due, I assumed that power dressing for a week would be a challenge for a multitude of reasons!
However, over the course of the week I was pleasantly surprised at how dressing and styling my hair with intention positively affected my mood and presence, how taking the time to plan my outfits in the morning (sartorial highlights from the week included a head to toe white denim look and some killer boots) allowed me to think about what I wanted to achieve each day, and how the clothes I wore could help make me feel like the best version of myself."
The TRESemmé Presence MasterClass™ is a free online resource for women everywhere. Learn what holds you back, combat Imposter Syndrome, and achieve your goals. Sign up here.